Life and Death in the Andes


What?! A book that isn’t fantasy?! I know! A year (or two?) ago I was really into reading and learning about South America, particularly the indigenous people who have lived there over time. Because of that I bought several nonfiction books on various topics, and I’m just now getting around to reading them. This book covers historical events and their consequences in Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. Topics range from Charles Darwin and other explorers of the region, to Pablo Escobar and other criminals and bandits, to people who are the last to speak their native tongue, to people who live on floating islands in Lake Titicaca. Each chapter is a different essay, and each essay gives both a micro and macro view of the place or people in the aforementioned countries.

I was very impressed by this book. Kim MacQuarrie writes in such an engaging way that I had to remind myself that this was a nonfiction title instead of fiction. He weaves together his own explorations, myths and legends, and gives the individuals he encounters and interviews their own distinct voices. His writing is both descriptive and emotive yet still very informative. I could tell that he has a great respect for the people and places that he writes about. The only real gripe I have toward the book is that I would have preferred the essays to be edited down a little more for conciseness.  I think I felt this way mainly because I had prior knowledge of some of the topics, but for readers who aren’t as familiar with these places, peoples, or myths, the extra context would probably be more enjoyable and helpful to read about.

This very detailed collection of essays gets a well deserved four and a half out of five stars from me. I would highly recommend this book as a starting point if you want to learn about the political, cultural, and criminal events that took place in the Andes.

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